THE PEARL EARRINGS
by Robert McGrath
The Coffee Morning was in full swing when the tramp walked in.
'We can't have this,' gasped Mrs Prendergast, the organiser, 'It will lower the tone of the whole proceedings.'
She caught hold of Stephanie Ryan who was just passing by. Stephanie was one of the newer members of the Women's Guild, and a little too forward for Mrs Predergast's liking. Just the sort of person for dealing with tramps.
'Stephanie,' she purred, 'Go and see what that person wants, and get rid of him as soon as possible.'
Stephanie smiled to herself. Mrs P was so transparent. Still, as she had never spoken to a tramp before, this could be quite an experience.
Every eye followed her as she crossed the room.
'Hello,' she said brightly, 'I'm Stephanie.'
'Hello Stephanie,' the tramp said in a surprisingly well-educated voice, 'I'm Tom.' He held out his hand as if to shake hers, then drew it back again. 'You wouldn't want to shake a-grubby paw like mine, would you?'
Despite his worn and dirty clothes, he managed to suggest an air of refinement. Perhaps he was no ordinary tramp.
Stephanie, intrigued against her will, asked, 'Can I help you? Are you looking for anything in particular?'
Tom smiled. 'It said on the poster,'In Aid of the Poor'. Well I'm poor, and I fancied a cup of coffee.'
'I'll get it for you,' volunteered Stephanie. 'It will save you joining the queue.'
'They wouldn't want me in the queue, would they?' he replied.
While Stephanie was getting the coffee, Tom wandered round looking at all the different stalls. He was amused at the way people made way for him wherever he went. A half smile played on his lips as if he enjoyed being a social outcast.
He came to the jewellery stall and stood transfixed. When Stephanie came back with the coffee, he was staring at a pair of pearl earrings.
'Don't you feel well?' asked Stephanie concerned, as she handed him his coffee.
'It's nothing,' he said, 'I'll drink this and go. Thanks for your help. It's nice to know that there are still some people who can find time for a drop-out like me.'
Stephanie smiled. There were lots of questions she would have liked to have asked him, but she could see his mind was well away.
He was thinking of pearl earrings. He had given Janie a pair on the first Valentine's Day they had been married. He could still remember her squeals of delight when she opened the packet.
His face softened as he thought of her. They had been so much in love. They had had a beautiful home and he had had a responsible job. He smiled to himself, 'What would this lot think if they knew I was once an accountant?'
They also had Jeremy, their first child. They had been a complete, happy, loving family. Then disaster struck.
He blamed himself. He should have got up in the night to make sure Jeremy was all right. But he had had a busy day and was dead beat. It was not until he heard Janie's screams that he awoke. By then it was too late. He had heard of cot deaths. But why Jeremy?
That was the beginning of the end. His work suffered. Accountants are not allowed to make mistakes. His partners realised he was under a strain, but there were hints that it would be better for all if he were to resign.
Worse than that was the tension between Janie and himself. They were both on edge. They blamed themselves and they blamed each other for the tragedy. They disagreed over the slightest thing. Quarrels broke out almost daily. He should have realised that she had felt just as badly as he did. They both needed sympathy and support, and, unfortunately, they were not able to give them to each other. A barrier had grown up between them.
He still could not remember how the last quarrel had started. But he remembered only too well how it had ended.
'If that's the way you feel,' sobbed Janie, 'then get out and stay out!'
'Don't worry,' he roared back, 'I'm going!' And with that he had marched out of the house with only the clothes on his back and a few pounds in his pocket. Pride, more than anything else, prevented him from going back.
He had tramped the roads ever since, adapting quickly to his new life. And people were kind. Only yesterday an elderly lady had pressed a five pound note into his hand as he rested on a park bench.
He had done his best to keep Janie at the back of his mind, but it was no use. The earrings brought it all back. He realised that he still loved her.
'How much for the earrings, love ?' he found himself asking the lady on the stall.
'Two pounds to you,' she told him.
Two pounds! It would eat into the money he had left, but it did not matter.
'I'll have them,' he said.
Janie recognised the neat distinctive writing on the envelope straight away. Her hands shook as she tore it open, and she stared at the two earrings that fell onto the table in front of her. Memories of their first Valentine's day came flooding back. She reached further, into the envelope and pulled out a single folded sheet of paper. She straightened it out carefully and read,
Remember Valentine's Day, darling,
Tom was safe and well, and still loved her. A tear dropped onto the paper she was holding.
'Come back soon, Tom,' she whispered, Please come back soon.?